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Ever wondered what exactly a biome is? Well, this article will answer all your questions about biomes, shedding light on their types, unique adaptations, and ecological significance.
The word “biome” was first coined in 1916 by American ecologist Frederic E. Clements to describe a group of plants and animals living in a particular region. Later, in 1939, Clements and his colleague Victor Shelford, an ecologist, expanded on this definition. The term “biome” and associated ideas have been developed and refined throughout time by scientists working in the developing area of ecology.
So, what are biomes? And how do we define them?
A biome is a particular geographical region distinguished by the area’s organisms. Many ecosystems can make up a biome.
It’s important to note that even though there is a considerable difference, biomes and ecosystems can sometimes be mistaken for one another. A biome is a collection of different ecosystems in a particular geographical area with a specific climate, whereas an ecosystem is a small-scale interaction between living and non-living things and their surrounding environment, such as a pond.
In this article, we will explore “The magic of biomes” and the complexity that follows the question of “What are biomes?”
It is a dilemma to define a biome because there is a disagreement over what exactly biomes are. However, the basis of the classification of a biome depends on its capacity to be recognized by its species, its climate, and the fact that all species within a biome share environmental adaptations.
The climate is the main parameter affecting the biomes, which in turn is influenced by other parameters like latitude, physical features, and atmospheric phenomena. For example, the difference in the vegetation and animals of the Artic tundra and the Amazon Forest directly results from the massive difference in their climatic conditions. Climate change also causes biomes to shift. The areas of North Africa which were once-lush green thousands of years ago have turned into deserts because of climate change. These areas are now a part of the Sahara Desert, the biggest desert on Earth.
Defining clear boundaries between different biomes is also tricky. For example, grassland and woodland biomes occasionally include transition zones. Wetlands and coasts serve as the transition zones for terrestrial and aquatic biomes. These zones are called ecotones, which can be natural or man-made. Even though there is a consistent answer to “What are biomes?” the sheer variety of biomes available on Earth, each with unique features and biological importance, is remarkable and creates another plethora of questions. There is a debate going on among scientists on the total variety of biomes and the ways to categorize them.
The most fundamental classification of biomes includes terrestrial and aquatic biomes.
However, not all researchers categorize biomes in the same manner. Some identify several distinct biomes and provide more specific classifications. Climatologists, botanists, ecologists, biologists, and anthropologists use a variety of characteristics to classify biomes. For instance, they categorize various types of forests as distinct biomes. One biome consists of warm, humid tropical rainforests. A separate biome is temperate deciduous forests, characterized by cool winters, mild summers, and a predominance of deciduous trees. Another biome is the taiga forest, found in colder climates and dominated by fir and spruce trees that bear cones.
Although definitions may not be consistent, there are five major types of biomes: aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra. Let’s take a look at them.
Aquatic biomes are classified into two groups:
The parameters used for classification are temperature, water depth, and water salinity. Waterbodies surrounded by lands with a salt concentration of less than 1% are considered freshwater biome. Examples include ponds, rivers, and lakes.
However, marine biomes—which include the ocean, coral reefs, and estuaries—cover approximately 75% of the Earth’s surface.
Grasslands are large areas of open land primarily covered in wild grass, having a warm, dry climate.
There are two types of grasslands:
South Africa, Hungary, Argentina, Uruguay, North America, and Russia are some areas with temperate grasslands situated away from the equator. They get less rainfall than savannas and lack any trees or bushes. There are two types of temperate grasslands: prairies and steppes. Prairies have higher grasses, while steppes have shorter grasses.
Savannahs are characterized by their open tree canopy above the tall grass. They are found near the equator and include parts of Australia, India, South America, and roughly half of Africa.
About 1/3rd of the Earth’s surface is covered in forest, home to most terrestrial biodiversity, including birds, insects, and mammals.
There are three main forest biomes:
These forests have different climatic conditions because of the difference in their latitudes. Tropical forests are located near the equator in a warm and humid environment, whereas temperate forests are found at higher latitudes witnessing all 4 seasons.
Boreal forests, also known as taiga, experience the coldest and driest climate, with main snowfall as a form of precipitation due to their extremely high latitude.
Deserts are dry areas with an annual precipitation rate of less than 50 cm, covering about 20% of the Earth’s surface. They occupy around 20% of the Earth’s surface. Most deserts are situated in subtropical regions and lack biodiversity compared to other biomes due to their harsh climatic conditions.
All the plants and animals found in deserts have developed special adaptations against the harsh environment. Most of their wildlife includes reptiles and small animals.
Depending on geographic location or climatic circumstances, deserts are divided into four groups: hot and dry, semiarid, coastal, and cold.
The tundra has one of the least pleasant climates of the five major biomes, with yearly average temperatures ranging from –34 to 12 degrees Celsius. Additionally, they have short summers, poor soil nutrients, and minimal yearly precipitation (15–25 mm).
Tundra is classified into two categories:
The alpine tundra is located at higher altitudes in the mountains, where it is difficult for trees to survive, and the arctic tundra is found in the northern boreal forest. Due to the presence of permafrost in the tundra, they lack significant biodiversity and have very basic vegetation, including shrubs, grasses, mosses, and lichens. Since we have successfully explored the question “What are biomes,” it is also important to understand their importance such that we can maintain their sheer beauty and diversity.
It is undeniable that each biome has its own significance and is home to various living organisms. Unfortunately, the continuous destruction of biomes and the negative impacts of climate change can potentially modify the biomes and ecological systems.
Therefore, we must consider the impact of our actions on the plants and animals that share the planet with us.
Due to the overwhelming use of resources and the rise in human activities in recent decades, several ecosystems have been destroyed. Forest and aquatic biomes have suffered the most due to overexploitation by humans.
Forests are home to a large number of living organisms. These biomes contain thousands of undiscovered species and potential medicines. Cutting down forests will have a major impact on the global climate because they have the capacity to buffer the consequences of global warming.
In the past decades, the exponential demand for houses, paper, and other wood products has destroyed several temperate forests. Similarly, agricultural methods like slash-and-burn and cattle grazing have caused tropical forests to suffer timber exploitation. Over 50% of the world’s tropical forests have already been destroyed.
But as people become more aware of the harmful impacts of logging, attempts are being made to use resources more sustainably and replant trees to slow down the destruction of forests.
Aquatic biomes are more significant than any other biome. The world’s oceans have a far greater influence on the climate than forests. Like forests, water also has climate buffering capacity, and given that 71% of the Earth is covered in water, their impact is higher.
The major cause of harm to freshwater biomes has been pollution. In rivers, ponds, and lakes, runoff from industrial dumping and other pollutants make the water unsuitable for the living organism.
There is a high risk of oceans being turned into ecological catastrophe zones due to overfishing and pollution. Many maritime ecosystems have become unfit for life due to industrial contaminants. Stronger legislation has been set in place to prevent further destruction of the marine biomes.
The magic of biomes lies in their extraordinary diversity. It is important to appreciate the value of each biome and take appropriate steps to preserve and maintain these unique systems sustainably. The protection of biomes for present and future generations and safeguarding the welfare of both nature and humans depends critically on conservation efforts, sustainable land-use methods, and international collaboration.
We can all develop a better grasp of how to protect the Earth’s natural biomes by teaching others about the effects of our activities. Conservation will assist in preventing more damage from occurring to the devastated places, which will never regain their previous shapes.